On (Not) Using Words

Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.

Quick now — who said that?

Me. Just now. Weren’t you paying attention?

The saying is sometimes attributed to Francis of Assisi, most likely erroneously, as many are gleefully wont to revel in and reveal, should someone dare voice the view.

To which the only reasonable response is, So what?

So what if he didn’t say it? The point isn’t who said it.

Duh.

The point is what it means. And it’s pedantic — not to mention a damnable waste of the time and talent given us — to care, let alone argue, if he personally spoke the actual signifiers or not.

So what does it mean, given that — yes, obviously — here I am using words.

Duh.

Well what it does not mean — what it does not even say — is that one should never use words to preach the gospel. In fact, it quite clearly gives the very pre-condition for doing so: if necessary.

Well, it’s always necessary, comes the riposte.

Fine then, use them all the time if you like.

Of course, most of the time people won’t listen. But that’s OK. They’ll still be watching.

Here’s a little test. How many people, besides Christians, pay attention to what Christians say? Yep. And how many people pay attention to what we do, especially if they compare it to what we just said? Yep again.

For what it’s worth, the sentiment expressed is that both words and actions are vital to a robust proclamation. Aight? Now can we live out the Gospel?

I was once in a small group going over a passage from a book, and the author committed an obvious howler, saying the Bible never talks about going to church. All of us, nearly, dutifully jumped on the poor (dead 18th century) guy, with the same proof-text in hand … err, mouth … to refute him.

Bam.

We hammered that dude as if he’d been wrong on the Internet. Mom would be so proud. Lost entirely in our raucous (metaphorical) victory dance was his point, which was that the Bible says a lot more about helping the poor. So maybe we sorta kinda have our priorities, at least our emphases, just bit skewed. But fortunately, he’d been wrong about the verse.

Whew.

We may also note in passing that St. Francis would have agreed with the sentiment wrongly attached to him, and he would have preached on it next Sunday. We might also mention that commonly those most insistent on “using words” aren’t as comfortable using pictures.

Sigh.

Actually, I’m not fond of the idea of using words … I love them too much. I will and work for their good, and would rather people stopped using them so much, including advertisers and propagandists of all stripes, not to mention we people, we who use them always, and get them wrong more than half the time, and excuse away our actions, nearly all the time.

While you can’t hug every word, nobody ever died despondent having truly tried.

But it doesn’t matter. Much as I love them, even the words, when we use them, do not ultimately matter.

They are not the treasure, they are the vessel.

Still, I’d rather we preached the gospel in our words, and by our actions. Heck, while we’re at it, do it with skywriting, tattoos, and interpretive dance. Say it in Esperanto, for the truly desperate.

You can even use social media, if you must.

But try not to use words.

And try not to care so much about who didn’t.

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